This morning, between 6am and 9am, Barry Holland will deliver his last NewstalkZB show. You probably don't know what he looks like. He's probably one of the last of the radio men (they were mostly men) with big audiences and mostly private lives. After all, he's only been at it for 43 years. He'd probably rather I wasn't telling you this.
He was dobbed in by one of his mates and he sounded horrified, in his courteous way, when I phoned. He is a cautious fellow, and modest, for somebody who has had a public presence, on the wireless, for so long.
Also, he is balking a bit at the retirement idea. He is a workaholic. "Yeah, a bit of a workaholic." You can't be a bit of a workaholic. "Okay, a workaholic!"
And a stayer. "A stayer! Yes, that's right. I like stayers. We should have more two-mile races." He's a sports nut and he likes the horses. His house is within walking distance of the Ellerslie racecourse; it wouldn't surprise me to learn he bought it for that very reason.
He has been talking about sport, and many other things, on ZB for all of those years. He will be missed. He said he didn't know whether he was much loved. He is. So, I thought he should say at the beginning of his last show that it was his last show but of course he won't: That wouldn't be professional. He won't get choked up. Not professional. Also, "I might have people wanting to sell or buy something. I'll tell you what: It could be a vinyl lounge suite. Always good for a rumpus room!"
This sounds rather quaint, these days, in the days of Trade Me: The Buy, Sell, Exchange segment. A garage sale on the wireless! A vinyl lounge suite! A rumpus room! He said: "It's the end of an era", but he said it cheerfully. He is not given to looking back. He said: "I've always been a positive person."
He started at ZB as a technician, went to Sydney for a few years, and came back to his station in 1968. He's done it all. He used to cruise Queen St on Friday nights, as technician to Merv Smith, on a show called Queen St Friday Night. It was gentle stuff. Imagine what you'd get doing that now. He did a bit of TV. Top Town, and On the Mat, which he adored. "They were wonderful days." He used to go for a drink with the wrestlers after the show and there was always some idiot wanting to take them on. "What silly boys."
He has always been sports-mad, possibly because he had polio as a little boy and couldn't play the league he loved - the doctor said it was bad for his leg. So he's talked about it on the radio for years, on various shows, instead, perhaps. His wife Carolyn (they married in 1968; he claims that she always says this is "amazing") said he's pretty good and doesn't talk about sport too much at home. Although she also told me they had 10 people staying during the Rugby World Cup. I asked her what it's been like being married to him and she said: "Challenging." I also asked her whether he did the vacuuming; he used to flog vacuum cleaners on the telly. I asked him first and he said, "Sometimes, Michele, I do the vacuuming. I've taken up vacuuming now. I do my share of things around the house. But there's still a lot of the old school, to be honest, Michele." She says he really does do the vacuuming, so he's not as old-school around the house as he'd have you think.
He has been a welcome guest in his listeners' houses for 43 years, a warm, much-loved character. He says if he'd say one thing about his longevity it's that you tend to become "part of the furniture". This is carefully considered and not a complaint; it's an observation, but because he's a workaholic, and thinks he still has much to offer, he certainly doesn't think he needs putting in a rumpus room just yet.
He is an astute, and generous, observer of other people. He would have more happily talked about Merv Smith, who took him under his wing early on, and Paul Holmes, for the entire interview. He is amazingly generous about Holmes, according to me, given that after Merv Smith left, he was supposed to be the Next Big Thing. He was asked, in 1987, if he'd take over the Merv slot, which should have ensured instant stardom. He said he asked if they were sure (he wasn't), finally said yes, and then, about two weeks later was told that the station was adopting a Brand New Thing instead: The news talk format and some joker called Paul Holmes.
So he ought to have been bitter about this. He says he wasn't, and isn't and that Holmes, like me, has never been able to understand this either. He must at least have been hurt. "Well, to tell you the truth, Michele, no, truly, I wasn't. I never felt I was a talkback person." But surely he wanted to be a big star? "No. Not in doing something completely new like that." He says if there is one thing he regrets, and it is a tiny regret, it is that he didn't stretch himself further. He means, "oh, probably taking more risks".
He'll say I'm making too much of this, but having polio as a 4-year-old may have imposed some caution. He's not, despite what all of his mates told me (the recurring phrases were: "enjoys a beer," and "a bit of a player in his day") particularly blokey - or he wasn't with me. I asked if he'd ever played up. He said: "Oh, Michele!" I asked if he ever got drunk and he said, in exactly the same tone with which he answered (or didn't) the playing up question: "Oh, not for a long time. Oh God, Michele! I'm getting older. You can't get drunk!" He was more interested in trying to figure out who my sources were. He's managed to live a pretty private life (the reason I contacted his friends was because there was so little in the old newspaper clippings about him.)
He says one of the reasons for his non-blokiness is that he just can't do blokey things, like fishing from boats. His polio-affected leg has left him with a limp. "I can't go climbing about on boats. You've got to get off awkwardly and on awkwardly." But why does he care? "Because you look dorky!"
He grew up in a state house - "I'm a John Key kid" - in Mt Albert. His parents separated when he was 7. He had a distant relationship with his father, a man affected badly, like so many, by his experiences in World War II. His mother married again (he has one younger brother, and a number of half- and step-siblings); he never got on with his stepfather, who he says was not kind to his mother.
He doesn't much like talking about these things.
He remembers being taken away in an ambulance when he was 4, and then spending three months at the Wilson Home, with the other polio victims. You might think - as I did - how awful for a little boy, but no, he loved it except for the time: "I was sitting on the potty and couldn't go and some girl ran inside and said: 'Barry can't go'!"
What a funny thing to remember. "Well, it was embarrassing, Michele!" At school he had callipers "so people used to think I was pretty good at keeping wickets!" He became a member of the Crippled Children's Society and there were annual games and "there were people far, far worse off than me. In fact I could win races! I could never do that at school". He won so many he got embarrassed all over again and ran away, "down to the bush! The teacher had to come and get me!"
What a funny little thing he must have been. "I know! Well, I didn't like it." It was showing off, probably. He said: "I can't complain. I've always said, you go out to enjoy yourself, just as you give everything to your job."
His idea of not working is being a tour guide. He takes people, mostly his listeners, on overseas tours. "Would you like to come, Michele? I'll send you a brochure." He's learnt "a heck of a lot, he says, "about how to go away with women" from taking these tours. Such as? "You must always, when you stop somewhere on the bus, find out where the toilets are. You have to carry things around with you, things that they may need: Like tissues. In fact, sometimes I take toilet paper. That is a very important thing. And some of them like their gin in the middle of the day." Good God! "Yes. Good God! That's what I thought too!" He says if I come on one of his tours, he'll bring a special bottle of gin just for me.
He probably really would, too. He's a generous host, on the wireless and at home with Carolyn. We had coffee and Carolyn-made biscuits and strawberries dusted with icing sugar. We looked at his photo album. Carolyn said she must get some of his pictures framed.
It says quite a lot that they aren't already framed and on display. She found the Dolly Parton pics. "Jeepers!" he said.
He loves Dolly but he didn't quite know what to do with his hands for the pictures. "She dented me a little bit!" Boom, boom!
Not much else has dented him. I doubt he's given more than a moment's thought to what would have happened if he'd been the next big star. I did fleetingly, and ended up agreeing with him on that matter. "Thank God it wasn't me," he said. And that's a chorus of loyal listeners, from across four decades, you can hear agreeing.